“Winter is coming … ” It may sound ominous, but in fact, winter is an essential season for recovery and replenishment. Discover important lifestyle shifts for a healthier body and mind, plus strategies for making the most of winter’s often-overlooked gifts.

Every season has its gifts, but we live in a culture that prefers to celebrate the bright, “go-go” energy of summer.

Without the haven of a winter recovery cycle to replenish us, though, we get depleted, overstimulated, and overwhelmed.

So in this week’s episode of The Living Experiment, we talk about the important and under-appreciated aspects of the winter season. We explain how you can observe its traditions by strategically adjusting your mindset, sleep schedule, food, fitness activity, and more.

Drawing on ancient wisdom and modern-day science, we suggest some experiments to help you make the most of winter in your own world.

 “Winter” Episode Highlights

  • An overview of where winter fits into Chinese Five-Element Theory – associating everything in nature and our lives with a season and element, each with its own implications
  • Fall associations: Metal (element), grief (emotion), and the experience of emptiness – a big, metal bowl with receptive space
  • Winter: Water (element); fear (emotion); the experience of introspection, dreaming, creativity, and exploration — many “what if?” possibilities filling the empty bowl
  • Spring: Wood (element); anger (emotion); the experience of clear, conscious choice and directed energy — a bamboo shoot emerging straight from the water
  • Summer: Fire (element); joy (emotion); the experience of flourishing, sharing the bounty, including everyone in the celebration — the blossoming of the bamboo shoot in a beautiful display of plenty
  • Change of season: Earth (contains all the elements), empathy (emotion), the experience of sharing from a place of surplus – redistributing resources, then returning back to emptiness with a bigger metal bowl, stronger structure, even greater possibility
  • The “cult of the light” — our imbalanced cultural celebration of the bright, energetic, and productive (masculine “yang” energy) at the cost of the equally-important quiet, slower, introspective, restorative aspects of life (feminine “yin” energy)
  • How ignoring the energetic downshift from summer into winter leaves us depleted and resentful, with nothing to give in our relationships
  • Your body’s clear signals and the subtle, systemic maladies that indicate you’re suffering from a lack of seasonal replenishment and restoration
  • An introduction to Dallas’s seasonal model for health – three key components of sleep, food, and movement
  • The pitfalls of using stimulating screen time to ignore the changing light/dark cycle in winter, which is nature’s nudge for you to become introspective and get more sleep
  • Life-giving activities for the winter, including the Danish concept of hygge that encourages intimacy with yourself and other people
  • Summer movement vs. winter movement – seasonally-harmonious fitness activities
  • How giving yourself a cardio break in winter can actually make you healthier
  • Thinking about winter exercise routines as a fitness foundation for spring and summer
  • Refraining from “should-ing on yourself” – why saying “could” instead of “should” is more empowering
  • High-intensity interval training: Short, hard anaerobic conditioning suggestions for the winter – outdoors or indoors – with appropriate work-to-rest ratios
  • Hearty food ideas for winter using locally- and seasonally-available sources, including high-quality animal proteins and fats; robust, durable, starchy root vegetables; and sturdy, leafy greens
  • Breakfast and the “year-round smoothie conundrum” – replacing cold morning smoothies with hot, healthy, hearty whole foods
  • Slow cookers (the perfect winter kitchen appliance) and soups and stews (the perfect winter meal)
  • Debunking myths about dietary fat and why it’s OK (and healthy) to eat fat in moderation and without heavy carbohydrates — particularly in winter
  • An explanation of dietary cholesterol vs. serum cholesterol and why consuming eggs and meat isn’t the primary driver of cholesterol troubles
  • The synergy of sleep, movement, and food – increased rest + strength and power exercises + a diet of more meat, fat, and starchy vegetables = greater winter health

Progressively adjust your bedtime to get more winter sleep.

  • Starting in November, go to bed a half an hour earlier with each successive month, continuing with this strategy until spring.
  • Resist the urge to maintain your summer sleep schedule, which will likely net you hours less sleep than your body wants and needs.

1) Add more seasonal vegetables to your shopping list.

  • Choices include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips, beets, and rutabagas; dark, leafy greens like kale and chard (fresh or frozen); fennel (roasted or in stews); sweet potatoes, squash, carrots (whole, not baby carrots!), parsnips.
  • Heat-caramelized veggies are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth: Toss them with olive oil, add a little salt and pepper, and roast them in an oven or on a cast-iron skillet.

2) Swap night-time TV watching for some other low-key, constructive or creative activity, even if it’s just for a half hour and one night a week to start.

  • Use the time to read, write, journal, declutter an area (like your fridge).
  • Take a bath, do some yoga or stretching, or indulge in other self-care activities.
  • Options like vision boarding, guided meditations or journaling can prime you for rich, insight-provoking dreams.

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  • Cat Thompson’s system of the Five Harmonics, an emotion-honoring evolution of Chinese Five-Element Theory.
  • The Living Experiment episodes on “Seasons”, about simple lifestyle shifts that can help you stay in step with nature’s cyclical rhythms, and “Enough”, which encourages a mentality of abundance over scarcity that can reframe your winter.
  • More on the art of Danish hygge (apparently pronounced “hooga”) and cozy, bonding activities to enjoy with friends and family when it’s cold outside.
  • An article from Experience Life magazine on “Overcoming Winter Blahs” that outlines the common challenges we experience as we move into winter and strategies to overcome them. While you’re there, type “winter” into Experience Life’s great search engine for a plethora of articles on winter activities, workouts and recipes.